Gilmour Reflects On Career
Saturday, 11.12.2011 / 10:16 AM ET / News
Doug Gilmour just wanted to survive.
Winning the Stanley Cup, producing a 127-point season, winning the hearts of everyone in Toronto, getting the call from the Hall -- it was all part in parcel to Gilmour's plain and simple goal of surviving to play another game in the NHL.
"I just look back and say I can't believe I lasted that long," Gilmour told NHL.com.
Gilmour, all 5-feet, 10 inches and 175 pounds of him, made his lasting power matter, finishing his career with 1,414 regular-season points on 450 goals and 964 assists in 1,474 career games. He's 12th all-time in assists and 17th in points. He added 60 goals and 128 assists for 188 points in 182 playoff games.
Monday night he'll be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame with 2011 classmates Joe Nieuwendyk, Ed Belfour and Mark Howe. Gilmour won the Stanley Cup in 1989 with Nieuwendyk and was teammates with Nieuwendyk and Belfour in Toronto.
"Dougie was maybe 175 pounds soaking wet, but man what a fierce competitor and a fun-loving teammate," Nieuwendyk told NHL.com. "He was always playing jokes in the dressing room, but when the puck dropped he played bigger than he was. He was a guy you could always rely on."
Gilmour said he played his entire 20-year career abiding by the words he read in a quote shown to him by a former junior teammate.
"A man shows what he is by what he does with what he has," Gilmour said, recalling the quote from memory.
Very few players in NHL history have shown who they are by doing as much with what they have.
"I didn't know I was small," Gilmour said. "I heard it all the time, but I never looked at it that way. People that said I was too small were the ones that helped my career out. They were the ones that said I would never make it, and they're the ones that made me fight that much harder."
Gilmour was a seventh-round draft pick in 1982, selected No. 134 by the St. Louis Blues, who were reluctant to sign him because management wasn't sure if he would be able to cut it in the NHL because of his size. Gilmour nearly had to go overseas to play professionally, but the Blues finally signed him a few weeks before the 1983-84 season.
He was hired to center the fourth-line and play primarily in a checker's role despite recording 177 points on 70 goals and 107 assists in his final season of junior hockey.
"I was going to do whatever it takes to stay there," Gilmour said. "The most important thing was me putting the uniform on for the first time and saying to all the naysayers I finally made it."
It wasn't long after he signed that Brian Sutter bestowed the nickname "Killer" on Gilmour both for his instinct on the ice and how his floppy mullet and steely eyes bore resemblance to Charles Manson.
"I didn't know I was small. I heard it all the time, but I never looked at it that way. People that said I was too small were the ones that helped my career out. They were the ones that said I would never make it, and they're the ones that made me fight that much harder." -- Doug Gilmour"When he saw me play he saw my eyes and was like, 'Charlie Manson,' " Gilmour said. "That's not something I'm proud of, but that's the way it was. Then it went from Charlie to Killer."
'Killer' had 53 points as a rookie, 57 in his second season, and another 53 in his third. He was a consistent defensive presence, and a reliable option to create some offense.
Gilmour knew he could do more, and he did during the 1986 playoffs, when he led the NHL with 21 points despite the fact that the Blues did not reach the Stanley Cup Final.
He finished the following season with 105 points.
"He was a guy that could read the game. He was smart," ex-Flames coach Terry Crisp told NHL.com. "A lot of times you thought he was only going half-speed, but when he did that it was because he was reading the play or cutting something off. Any time you have a guy that you can use on even strength, power play and penalty kill, you know you've got an all-around player."
Crisp got a hold of Gilmour in Calgary when the Blues traded him to the Flames prior to the 1988-89 season. Gilmour had 85 points in his first season with the Flames and 22 more in the playoffs, helping the organization win its only Stanley Cup.
"He was tenacious," Crisp said. "Nobody could ever tell Dougie Gilmour that he wasn't 6-foot-8 and he couldn't play like he was 6-foot-8. Not that he had a chip on his shoulder or he was out to prove to people that he should have been drafted higher; he just played the game the right way night in and night out.
"As intense as he was and as hard as he worked, he always had a sense of humor, but once he pulled that jersey on, look out."
Gilmour admitted there are times when he reflects back on his career he asks himself two questions question:
1. "Are you nuts?"
2. "What were you thinking?"
Then he reasons he had to do certain things to survive in the NHL. His helmet was his cape, transforming him from Doug into Killer.
"I had a different personality when I put my helmet on," Gilmour said. "Do I regret some of the things I did? Of course I do. But, that's the only way I survived in this game. It's really hard to explain because people ask, 'How do your kids play?' I don't want my kids playing the way I did."
Gilmour was already in the middle of a noteworthy career when he arrived in Toronto on Jan. 2, 1992 as former Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher, who was running the Leafs, helped architect a 10-player blockbuster.
He was the centerpiece, and the Leafs took off with him in place. He had 49 points in 40 games to finish the 1991-92 season, and then put up a career-high and still franchise-record 95 assists and 127 points in 83 games in 1992-93. Toronto reached the Campbell Conference Finals before losing to Wayne Gretzky and the Kings in seven games. Gilmour had 35 points in 21 playoff games.
"He made so many people around him better, myself included. That to me is a guy that is going to lead your team," ex-Leaf and Gilmour linemate Dave Andreychuk told NHL.com. "It's not just about him getting his 35 points, it's how he made Wendel Clark play, how he made Dave Ellett play, or Todd Gill. To me, that's the key of Doug Gilmour, making people around him better."
Gilmour had 111 points the following season and another 28 in 18 playoffs games, but the Leafs were wiped out in the Conference Finals, this time by the Vancouver Canucks.
"He was the superstar of our team," Andreychuk added. "There was not one guy that I know on that team and I'm sure on all the other teams he played on that will ever say Doug Gilmour didn't lay it all on the line. We didn't see him much when the game ended because he had to go get his IV. He was trying to re-cooperate. It was inspirational, it really was."
Gilmour never had another 100-point season after 1993-94 and he didn't reach another Conference Finals either, but he was the Leafs captain from 1994-97 before he was traded to New Jersey late in the 1996-97 season for Steve Sullivan, Jason Smith and Alyn McCauley. Gilmour played 83 games for the Devils and had an impact.
"We were looking for an offensive type of player, somebody who could score but always make those around him better. That's exactly what he did when he came here," Devils GM and Hockey Hall of Fame member Lou Lamoriello told NHL.com. "We paid a price for it, but he was a competitor to the highest level. His competitiveness got contagious. He competed like he was 6-foot-5 on every given night. Dougie knows how to win and he knows how to compete."
Gilmour left the Meadowlands for Chicago and then moved on to Buffalo. He announced his retirement following the 2000-01 season, but quickly rescinded it to sign with Montreal.
Former Leafs coach and GM Pat Quinn brought Gilmour back in 2003 via a deadline-beating trade for a sixth-round draft pick. The Leafs were a Cup contenders, but Gilmour played only two shifts in his first game before colliding with Calgary's Dave Lowry and blowing out his ACL.
He never played again.
"I look at it now and it's kind of fitting that I played one game, wound up crawling off the ice and that was my final game," Gilmour said. "I never had an injury like that before and I'll never forget it. It was almost like a charley horse and when the pain subsided I was like, 'OK, I'm ready to go back.' Our trainer was like, 'You're not going anywhere.' I said, 'What do you mean.' 'You're done,' he said. 'Doug, you're done.'
"I still wanted to keep on going, but obviously it wouldn't work."
It was OK. Gilmour survived to play enough games in a Hall of Fame career.
"When you talk about what it means to be a Hall of Fame player, it's a guy that puts it on the line every night and makes other guys better," Andreychuk said. "That's what Doug Gilmour was all about."